Southwest Brewing News

“Life is too short to drink cheap beer:” the hidden meanings
by Richard Vang
Southwest Brewing News. (Austin, TX) 1994, 3:3

Presented by the Upstate Chunk & Paradigm Company


Beer drinking and philosophy have gone hand-in-hand for centuries.  Shakespeare, Johnson, Dickens, Housman and Throneberry have all conducted some deep thinking while draining a few ales or lapping some Lite.  Many amateur contemplatives have also placed a tasty mug in front of their face and pondered the great mysteries of Life.   Looking around your favorite pub, you might spot one of these “ancient souls,” sitting in a dark corner, just listening, and soaking everything in.  You yourself might be one, and you know that finding another like yourself with whom to share a meeting of the minds is not only becoming a rarity, it’s getting to be downright illegal.   For, as you may have already discovered, American culture and thought has become the equivalent of Styrofoam.  We are a nation of bumpersticker philosophers.

Luckily, our little revolution in the brewing industry has effectively avoided all such shallow slogans and shameless propaganda, right?  Wrong.  In fact, it is under the aegis of such mottoes that many newcomers to the scene rally together, bang their drums, and chant anti-swill anthems to the infidels.  These are the same yuppies whose dollars supported the microwinery boom of the 1980’s, and who subsequently abandoned that fad, causing it to fall on its face.

Nowadays, T-shirts, mugs and, God forbid, bumper stickers too, proclaim with zeal that “Life is too short to drink cheap beer.”  This slogan is a perfect example of how such profound truths are used and abused with little thought as to what the words actually mean.  So gentle pupils, it is my duty to illuminate you as to the occult meanings of this phrase.  (Please look that word up before you get bent out of shape.)  Let us take apart, word by word, this seemingly harmless, popular saying and seek its hidden teachings. I think that when we do, you will see how it not only contains much more than what it has come to represent, but that it just might be an altogether unreasonable premise.

It opens with a word that is as big as, well, Life.  The Meaning of Life is, without a doubt, at the central core of any beer drinking philosopher’s investigation.  A hectic day at work, trouble with relationships, reminiscing about glory days, whatever--it’s all there to think about, everyday.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we are in the midst of Life.  It does not begin when we graduate, when we become adults, when we get a real job.  We are alive, right now, and it is our duty to observe every detail, both good and bad, of this Life.  We are just like Silly Putty, and everything we experience leaves its imprint, and then gets balled up with everything else and makes us who we are.  The enlightened sages know this, and they spend many nights reveling with their compatriots, discussing love, death, war, politics, beer--and all those common experiences which make living interesting.  In short, celebrating Life.

“Life is.”  This is in itself maybe a cliché.  If so, it’s a pretty good one, mainly because it is simple enough to evoke contemplation, and because the verb is so nebulous.  Both the Buddha and Richard Bach have employed this maxim extensively.  It implies a submission to a higher principle which we can know nothing about.  It is much like simply accepting with faith that there is a fermentation process, and that it works.  Certainly from a chemical standpoint we can describe what happens, but the fact that fermentation does take place is a little bit of magic.   And then too, accepting that “Life is” requires a different way of thinking than most people are familiar with.  They get all bunged up about things that really don’t matter in the long run.  This submission requires the pure enjoyment of living, of being alive, of taking a big swig from the glass regardless of what’s inside.  As did Jesus while praying in the garden at Gethsemane, one takes the cup with the knowledge that its contents contain a lesson to be learned, and accepts the implications of that action.  What comes out of that swig may be good for you, or not.  But therein lies the acceptance that comes with indifference: Life just is.

“Life is too short.”  We can wax romantic about this sort of thing, asking “What if?” to the many remarkable lives cut short: Chatterton, Mozart, Anne Frank, etc.  The span of human life is a mere nano-second when compared to the history of the universe.  Some would say that we live a series of short lifetimes, and that our state in the next life depends on our actions in this.  If such is the case, and I have reasons to believe it is so, then we cannot really say that Life is ‘short’ at all.  This particular manifestation is short, to be sure, and if we miss trying out that stout made in Texas in this lifetime, then we can hit it the next time we come around.  But therein lies the romanticism of our brewing revolution.   We can look at beers made without preservatives as an almost sublime and tragic beauty, for truly their shelf-life is too short when compared to their factory-produced counterparts.  Cosmically speaking, this is why millerweiser is a crime against Nature.  It, like Frankenstein’s monster, is an artificially prolonged life that should have ended a long time ago.

“Life is too short to drink.”  This phrase carries all kinds of metaphysical problems along with it.  Drinking in America has many after effects.   It makes some people mad, it makes some people bad.  Others become sad, and others become glad.  It causes those who abuse it to make errors in judgment, and it causes those who “never touch the stuff” to lose reason altogether.  The act of drinking beer contains within it the Great Paradoxes which only the most abstruse of symbols can conceal.  We know of its risks to health, which certainly can be damaging to an already short life.  Yet we are also aware of its benefits which may prolong that life.  Beer brewed with natural ingredients is fattening, but it is also nutritious.  It is a widely abused drug, yet it is available to nearly everyone.   In order to resolve such extremes and paradoxes, one must constantly bear in mind the words of the antiquated and wise Socrates, and keep “All things in equilibrium.”

“Cheap.”  This term, in regards to beer, requires that we single it out and decipher it completely.  For, not only in the beer world, but in the linguistic world as well, the term has come to have a new meaning.  Also, its interpretation lies at the crux of our own investigation.  We find that Random House uses the synonym “inexpensive” to define cheap.  Further on down the line, it admits to the fact that the word has now come to also mean “inferior.”  What does this double entendre mean for us?

First of all, we all know that to find cheap, or rather inexpensive beer, is a good thing.  Seeking out free beer is the Prime Directive for any beer hound.  In fact, in the Northeast region of our fine country, a formal custom has evolved wherein every third or fourth beer purchased in a bar is reciprocated by a free beer from the bartender.  This ensures proper behavior from both parties involved.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s called a ‘buyback.’  Can you say BUYBACK?  Also, part of the main consideration for homebrewing is to save money on good beer, so cheap/inexpensive is a good thing rather than something to be avoided.

Cheap, meaning inferior, however, may be a bad thing.  Without rehashing all that this paper has stood for, beer without quality ingredients is a damn shame, not to mention a crime against humanity.  But, and let’s see a show of hands people, how many of us don’t mind squinting down an ice-cold can of Schlitz once in a while?  Or a Lone Star, Genessee, or Olympia?  Many of us were weaned on some sort of regional swill, and even though we think ourselves to have evolved beyond the notion of ever drinking it again, every family gathering is swimming in the stuff.  An occasional glass of swill connects us to our roots, and reminds us where we’ve come from. So really, cheap, from any angle is not always a bad thing.

So, is Life too short to drink cheap beer?  I will leave that for you to contemplate on your own now, and I hope that I have helped you to think about this with a different point-of-view.  As a final illustration of the proper attitude for such an investigation, I would like to leave you with a traditional Sufi story.  At a family gathering, a man asked his brother what kind of beer was in the keg that they were drinking from, as he was hoping that it was his favorite beer.  And so his brother, who was a very wise man, replied that “It is whatever you want it to be.”   So my good friends, in the future please take a deep drink, and think, before you talk.


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